(or "Nine Ways to End the Parker-Watson-Marriage Saga")
(Beware: spoilers for "One More Day" ahoy.)
It's widely known that Marvel editorial regards the Parker-Watson wedding to have been a major misstep for Spider-Man, a move that has limited the potential of Spider-Man storytelling for the past twenty years. It's also widely known that the "One More Day" story arc, spinning out in the Spider-books in late 2007, is Marvel editorial's solution to the misstep, ending the marriage in a definitive way and permitting the writers to once again, finally, after years of agonized waiting, tell stories about a Peter Parker who can beat up the Shocker but can't get a date.
Let's bracket the discussion of whether Marvel's assessment of the Parker-Watson marriage is accurate. Let's instead confine ourselves to uncontested territory: namely that "One More Day" sucks.
The arc, if you're not familiar with it, begins with the premise that Aunt May is dying. She has been mortally wounded by a sniper's bullet meant for Peter. All of Peter's efforts to save her, through conventional medicine, Dr. Strange's magic, or Reed Richards' super-tech, have failed. Enter Mephisto, the Marvel Universe's answer to the Devil, who makes an unsolicited offer to Peter and Mary Jane. With his infernal power, he will save Aunt May's life, but in return he demands that Peter and Mary Jane sacrifice their marriage.
Sacrifice their marriage? What does that mean, exactly? Why, Peter and Mary Jane, and everyone else, I suppose, will forget that the two are married, or indeed ever were married. The two will be single people again, without even the memory of their time together as consolation. Doing this sort of thing is apparently how Mephisto gets his jollies.
Issue #3 ends with Mephisto's offer hanging in the air. Issue #4 is not out yet at the time of this essay's composition, but it seems highly likely that Peter and Mary Jane will accept this Faustian bargain. With only one issue left to go in this arc, it's hard to see how there's time for anything else to occur.
"One More Day" is a crushing disappointment for a variety of reasons. It's exceedingly implausible, for one thing. It posits that there is absolutely nothing, in any capacity, that the Black Panther, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, the High Evolutionary, Black Bolt or anyone of that calibre can do for May Parker, but that Mephisto can solve the whole thing at a stroke. This is hard to accept.
Worse, it presents Peter and Mary Jane as extraordinarily stupid. Stupid to take Mephisto, a notorious deceiver, at his word that he'll deliver the goods as advertised; stupid to think that Aunt May would want the two of them to give up their marriage for her life; and stupid to think that they should both pay such a price to clean Peter's conscience. Remember, as Peter said, he's going to extremes to save May not because he wants her to live—he's realistic enough to know she'll be dead soon no matter what, whether of another bullet or of old age—but because he can't bear for her to die when it's his fault. What is at issue here is not Aunt May's life, but Peter's guilt.
I came a bit late to the party, and read the issue some time after it came out, without knowing what it contained, only that a noted Spider-Fan (who will remain nameless) had already observed of the story that "There are so many interesting possible plotlines that could have been used to separate Peter and Mary Jane. Hundreds of them. This isn't one of them." Having read the issue, I agreed that it wasn't very good... but I wondered about this indictment. Sure, a deal with Mephisto is a terrible plot device. 'Selling your marriage to the Devil' doesn't make much sense as a concept, and it in this case it doesn't make emotional sense either: Peter and Mary Jane are supposed to be mature and responsible adults. Mature and responsible adults come to terms with the hard truths of life, they don't bargain with devils to fix them.
But, okay, this 'solution' to the 'problem' doesn't work... but could there be anything better? A story that ended the Parker-Watson marriage, while keeping May and Mary Jane as viable supporting characters? A story that, on top of that, kept Mary Jane available as a possible romantic figure in Peter's life? Are there really "hundreds" of such stories?
I don't know about "hundreds", but here are nine. Some are heavy, some are light, but all are better than what we readers got:
Sure, some of these ideas have been used in other times and other places, but so has the 'deal with the devil' schtick. The point is, I thought of these in the space of my half-hour walk to work. It took half an hour to come up with nine ideas that end the Parker-Watson marriage without making Peter and Mary Jane out to be stupid or narcissistic. So what's Marvel Editorial's excuse?